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Turn butternut squash into a creamy sauce for pasta

Plus: A simple way to cook a whole squash.

What I’m about to tell you will blow your mind, if you don’t already know: You don’t need to cut your butternut squash before roasting it.

That’s right: You can cook the whole squash, skin-on, in the oven and the insides will get nice and soft, without the back-breaking work of splitting in half the raw, oddly shaped gourd.

I have to credit Tampa Bay Times columnist Stephanie Hayes, who shared the hack on social media recently and inspired me to try it. It’s a game changer.

It’s especially handy for when you want to cook your squash first then add it to a dish. I poked my butternut squash with a knife to create some steam-releasing holes, then cooked it for about an hour in a 400-degree oven. The skin will get browned and roasty, and you can test if it’s done by inserting a knife through the skin — the inner flesh should be soft.

A knife will run easily through the squash once it’s out of the oven, and then you can scoop out all of that bright orange goodness. It’s going to be your base for this recipe, a creamy pasta that I did not intend to have resemble macaroni and cheese but really does. I doubt picky eaters would be able to detect the squash.

Bacon is another crucial ingredient here, providing fat and flavor to the dish that you won’t get from the squash. If you’re vegetarian, you could swap finely chopped onions for the bacon.

This is a nice fall dish that is easy to make in large quantities, refrigerates and reheats well, and will satisfy your cheesy pasta cravings while being slightly less indulgent.

Creamy Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta

1 butternut squash

16 ounces pasta (I like something like rigatoni or penne for this)

4 slices bacon, diced

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Salt

Pepper

2 cups whole milk

4 ounces cream cheese or goat cheese

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Poke a couple of holes in the squash’s skin with a knife (be careful!), then place it on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper and roast in the oven for about an hour. Check for doneness my inserting a knife through skin; inside flesh should be soft.

When squash is done, remove from oven and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. For this recipe, you’ll only need one half of the squash. Reserve the other half for another recipe.

Get a pot of water boiling for your pasta and cook according to package directions. When done, strain pasta and set aside but keep the pasta water in the pot — you’ll use that later.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add bacon. Add a swirl of olive oil and cook until bacon is fully browned and crispy. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease and setting the bacon aside for later.

Scoop out flesh from your butternut squash half, then add to the skillet with the garlic. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Let cook for another 10 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and squash is starting to brown.

Stir in milk, mixing well, then add cream cheese and bring mixture to a low boil. When mixture is bubbling and creamy, stir in red pepper flakes and add about ½ cup pasta water. Stir until sauce is fully combined and quite creamy. If it’s looking dry, add more pasta water.

Add pasta to sauce and stir well to coat. Divide into serving bowls, then top with reserved crispy bacon.

Serves 4.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times

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